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U.S. Rep Larsen: Future of Navy on Whidbey ‘is secure’

During his presentation to Navy League Tuesday, Congressman Rick Larsen described the future of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station as “secure,” and said Oak Harbor’s support for the base is making a difference.  - Keven R. Graves/Whidbey News-Times
During his presentation to Navy League Tuesday, Congressman Rick Larsen described the future of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station as “secure,” and said Oak Harbor’s support for the base is making a difference.
— image credit: Keven R. Graves/Whidbey News-Times

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen addressed the Navy League this past Tuesday and offered some reassuring words for the Oak Harbor community.

The future of the Navy on Whidbey Island is “secure,” he said.

Larsen encouraged the Navy boosters to continue expressing support for the military presence on Whidbey Island because, back in Washington, D.C., “it makes a difference.”

“It’s working,” Larsen said. “If you value something, you should be willing to fight for it.”

A trip once made to Washington, D.C. by former Oak Harbor mayor Jim Slowik made an impression on top-level officials at the Pentagon, Larsen said.

There is “high-level of support” from Oak Harbor for the Navy, Larsen said, and that is helping to cement the future of NAS Whidbey here.

A longtime businessman in Oak Harbor, Slowik owned a car dealership in the 1990s when NAS Whidbey appeared on a base closure and realignment list.

As a result of that threat to close the base, Slowik said he still worries closure might be a possibility.

“All of us who were here worry about that,” he said.

Larsen, Slowik said, “did a great job presenting the argument that Whidbey Island is the key Navy base, especially with the patrol wing and Poseidon aircraft that are coming.”

“I hope Rep. Larsen is correct when he says NAS Whidbey Island is secure, and I’m 99 percent sure he is,” said Kathy Reed, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Reed was in the audience for Larsen’s presentation.

“The base is too strategically located for the Department of Defense to give it up, especially with the current administration’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region.”

“Growth at the base translates into economic growth for Oak Harbor — more people to shop at local businesses, eat in local restaurants and attend local events,” said Reed, who is helping promote the chamber’s “Jets = Jobs” message throughout the community in response to a Central Whidbey group’s efforts to end landing practices at Outlying Field Coupeville.

There has been a lot of negative publicity surrounding Outlying Field and that’s why it’s even more important the people in D.C. see how much support there is for the base,” Reed said.

“I don’t know if I’m as certain as Rep. Larsen is about the base’s future — I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket — but I believe it’s imperative we band together to show DoD officials we want the base here. Our economy depends on it.

“The Navy values Oak Harbor’s commitment to the Navy,” Larsen said, adding that support was particularly evident during a time when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was looking at closing military installations.

“I believe we are in a strong position,” Larsen said, but added that there are “challenges,” among them the federal sequester.

The sequester is damaging military readiness and our military funding, Larsen said, explaining the impacts go beyond that and into the community.

As a result of the federal sequester, school impact aid is affected, as is funding for such programs as Meals on Wheels and youth vaccination programs.

“This really does spread beyond our military communities,” Larsen said.

The sequester, he said, “is a bad policy.”

The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, and Congress will need to make a decision, he said.

“The bitter taste we have about sequestration in Oak Harbor” is shared in communities across the country, he said. Knowing that, Larsen said he’s hopeful that will encourage lawmakers to take action to end the damaging policy.

“I felt like his remarks were reassuring,” said Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about. But I took to heart what he said about the community staying engaged and keeping that Team Whidbey support in place.”

Larsen’s positive outlook about the Navy’s future on Whidbey Island were welcomed by Kathy Reed, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“Growth at the base translates into economic growth for Oak Harbor — more people to shop at local businesses, eat in local restaurants and attend local events,” said Reed, who is helping promote the chamber’s “Jets = Jobs” message throughout the community in response to a Central Whidbey group’s efforts to end landing practices at Outlying Field Coupeville.

“More people means a larger, more diverse employee pool with more and different skills and it could also translate into more new business in general as we strive to meet the needs of an expanding population,” Reed said.

“It’s a positive thing,” Reed said.

Asked by an audience member about President Barack Obama’s “decision to punish Syria” for purported use of chemical weapons, Larsen responded jokingly, “That’s not a weighted question.”

“Congress is all over the place on this right now,” he said. There are the “hawks,” who think the United States should do more than Obama proposes, and there are those representatives who believe it’s not the job of the U.S. to get involved.

Larsen said he thinks there are key questions to be answered, among them: Were chemical weapons used? When? And on whom?; If so, does it require a response from the United States, and; If the United States does respond, what would be the next step?

“I’m trying to be deliberate about this decision,” Larsen said.

“It’s important.”

 

Note: Reporter Janis Reid contributed to this story.

 

Community Events, April 2014

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